PEACE TALKS: MANAGING CONSUMER CONFLICT (KUNM Airdate: 2/27/04)
By the time most of us are 12, we've become consumers of goods and services. By the time we're adults, most of us have worked in some type of customer service job. As either a consumer or a customer service rep, we've been involved in unpleasant, unsatisfying and, often, irritating situations that sometimes turn into confrontations. Our guests are experts in customer service and consumer advocacy. Mary Cooley is a human resources expert on customer service and employee turnover and Joel Cruz Esparza is Assistant Attorney General in New Mexico and the director of the state Office of Consumer Protection. They'll help you learn to stay calm and communicate clearly to keep peace in consumerville.
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HUMAN RESOURCES EXPERT
How do customer service reps become more effective?
Mary Cooley: Be sincere in the messages you send. Be specific with people. Address your customers personal needs to make them feel like a valuable human being and address their practical need. Why did they come to you. Is it for a taco, is it for a book, is it for a report. If you address those elements, you will deliver good customer service.
How should a clerk or sales person handle a customer who's really upset?
Cooley: Well I think the worst thing people do is embattle that customer. I like the acronym that we use in training with is HEAT. 1) HEAR THEM OUT: Don't engage. Don't have non-verbals with your arms crossed in front of you saying "I'm tuned out, I'm not listening." Let that person voice however they have to voice their concerns. 2) EMPATHIZE: Say, if that were happening to me, how would I feel? Try to live for a moment in their shoes. 3) APOLOGIZE: I don't think this happens nearly enough today. Say I'm sorry, we're sorry this occured to you. Again, be sincere. 4) TAKE RESPONSIBILITY: Tell the customer, "Here's what I'm able and willing to do." Take ownership of it.
What services does your office offer New Mexicans?
Joel Cruz-Esparza: 1) Mediation: After a consumer has tried to resolve a disputed transaction with a business, then the consumer comes to our office. Most often, by the time a consumer comes to us, they're already in a dispute. 2) Legal Education: We do this so we can prevent this kind of dispute. 3) Work with the legislature. To try and pass laws that are more fair to both parties. 4) Interventions. When disputes get adversarial, we'll file a lawsuit in the federal court or district court to try and stop the behavior of a particular business that we allege is really violating the laws of New Mexico.
How does this work relate to peacemaking?
Esparza: Good question. Believe it or not we get consistent attacks from different industries claiming that we are anti-business or controversial or that we are adversarial. But really, thinking about our work and seeing how unjust some of the manipulations of the industries are, we are in essence peace workers. We're trying to resolve the matter in a fair way before we get all of our emotions going and we really put the kind of pressure on that would be some kind of violent sort of stance. We're trying to equalize things so we can make peace. Because if we don't do this, really, people can get very angry.
ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL, NEW MEXICO
WEBSITES AND OTHER RESOURCES
TELEPHONE: Consumer Affairs New Mexico, 1-800-678-1508
BOOK: Turned On by Roger J. Dow
BOOK: The Customer Comes Second by Hal Rosenbluth and Diane McFerrin Peters